Watching the Major League Soccer season? Fantastic! You might have heard the commentators or seen the advertisements for the Leagues Cup competition. Yet, what is it? We’ve got you covered with the Leagues Cup explained.
Leagues Cup explained
Format of Leagues Cup in 2023
In essence, the Leagues Cup is MLS vs Liga MX, in a no holds barred month-long competition! It features every single team from both leagues. Yep, that’s all 29 MLS teams and 18 top-tier Mexican clubs (47 in total). Leagues Cup takes a ‘World Cup schedule’ approach. As both domestic leagues are suspended during the Leagues Cup, with this being the primary focus for around a calendar month.
The MLS Cup winners and the Liga MX team with the highest points tally at the end of the entire season get a bye to the second round automatically.
The other 45 teams make up 15 groups of three. The teams will play one another once and the top two in each group will advance to the Round of 32 phase. One important note is that in the event of a tie in the group stage, each team will receive a point in the table, but a penalty shoot-out will be held to award an additional point.
Subsequently, the games will be played over a single leg, resulting in a Grand Final after teams are down to the final two. This will result in 77 games taking place, including the third-place playoff. The third-place and second-place teams of this competition will earn a spot in the round of 32 in the CONCACAF Champions League, while the overall winner will do one better with entry at the round of 16 phase, as well as the trophy, of course.
All of the group-stage games are set to be held in the US or Canada. All prior editions of the tournament have been staged exclusively in the United States. While Liga MX teams may be defined as the home teams for the second or subsequent rounds, it’s unlikely that they’ll host games. It’s been reported that when the Mexican national team plays in America, they earn over seven times the revenue than when they play in Mexico. Following this business practice makes logical sense for all parties involved.
Is this the very first Leagues Cup?
Sort of, but not really. The history of the Leagues Cup isn’t always clear. The 2019 edition was more of a trial run as it simply invited four teams from both countries to participate. Cruz Azul ended up winning that in an all-Mexican final.
The 2020 version was canceled due to COVID-19. The 2021 tournament retained the eight-team structure from the prior incarnation. It did however try to award the invites on sporting merit and who wasn’t already in continental competition. Leon won that edition by defeating the Seattle Sounders 3-2 at Allegiant Stadium.
In 2022, the governing bodies decided that the teams couldn’t fit the competition into their schedules. Therefore the Leagues Cup was held merely as a series of friendly matches (named Leagues Cup showcase) with no trophy handed out. In theory, this sparked the movement to ensure that all the teams dedicated time to this competition and had all of them involved – making this rehauled version of it.
Given the 2023 edition is drastically different from the predecessors, some commentators are saying on MLS broadcasts that this is the inaugural tournament. Now you’ve had Leagues Cup explained to you, you know that the team at least has origins dating back to 2019. So far, the competition has been won exclusively by Mexican teams, can that change in 2023?
What about the Campeones Cup?
The Campeones Cup will still be played but is a separate competition. This is a community shield-style tournament celebrating the winners of both the MLS and Liga MX in a single match. Itis typically held at the MLS team’s home stadium.
Last year, New York City FC defeated Atlas FC 2-0 at Yankee Stadium to make it three straight victories for the MLS team in this fixture.
What key matches are worth looking out for in the group stage?
Well, firstly, you needn’t worry about finding the right channel. If you’re already subscribing to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass then you get these games as part of the package. Awesome! All you need to do is now plan what games you’re going to watch either live or on-demand.
The South 3 Group is a particularly well-stacked group. Cruz Azul, 2019 winners, former Campeones Cup winners, Atlanta United, and Lionel Messi’s new team, Inter Miami. There could be fireworks in all three of these games as the soccer GOAT finds himself in a very new environment.
Any match involving 8-time Liga MX champions is worth watching. Tigres UANL head north to play both the Portland Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes. With André-Pierre Gignac still contracted to the Mexican side, expect goals galore. The Frenchman set the Mexican Clausura alight this season.
The Central 1 group is a curious case as it features MLS’ newest franchise, St. Louis City SC. While Bradley Carnell’s team has adapted well to the domestic competition, continental competition in their first-ever season will be a real challenge for the upstart club. It’s made a bigger challenge with the imminent arrival of 13-time Liga MX champion, Club America.